Thursday, June 14, 2012

In the Spotlight… Argentina Women

In the Spotlight is a series that will profile each of the 24 participating teams at the London Olympic Games. It will provide a glimpse of what to expect as each squad begins its London quest. Between now and the Olympic opening ceremony a new team will be featured every 2-3 days.

The Basics:
The Argentinean Women are currently 2nd in the FIH World Rankings, only a handful of points behind The Netherlands, the team they beat in the final of the 2010 World Cup in Rosario. They have regularly stood on the podium at world events over the past twelve years, winning the World Cup twice (2002 and 2010), finishing 3rd in 2006, collecting Olympic medals in 2000 (silver), 2004 (bronze) and 2008 (bronze again), and winning five Champions Trophies. However, the South Americans only qualified for the 2012 Olympic Games through the back door, after a shock defeat at the hands of the USA in the final of the Pan American Games.
The Road to London:
After their World Cup triumph at home in Rosario, the Argentinean Women could have imagined that the 2011 Pan American Games would be the usual formality for them, having never previously lost a match in continental competition before. With some of their key players performing under their par, they were surprised by a well-organized USA team who snatched the only ticket for London. The World Champions were only saved from having to play in an Olympic Qualifier when the South African Olympic Committee refused the direct qualification earned by its team and the spot was given to the South Americans, as the top ranked not yet qualified team.
Players to Watch:
Las Leonas would probably not be where they are without the stunning talent of Luciana Aymar. FIH Player of the Year an incredible seven times, her influence on the Argentinean team is undeniable: when she is at the top her form, as in Rosario for the World Cup, she is a permanent threat for the opposition, scoring goals or delivering sumptuous passes to her forwards; when she is not as sharp, as in Guadalajara for the Pan American games, the whole team slows down a notch.
Argentina can also count on the fierce penalty-corners of Noel Barrionuevo and the speedy runs and clever positioning in front of the goal of Carla Rebecchi.
42-year-old Carlos Retegui played for the Argentinean men’s team for 17 years and is a triple Olympian himself. After his playing career, he turned to coaching, and during a one year stint with the Argentine men led them to Champions trophy bronze in 2008. In early 2009, “Chapa” Retegui switched to the women’s team, and led them to victory in the Champions Trophy in 2009, 2010 and 2012, and to their World Cup triumph at home in 2010.
Spectators the world over have enjoyed the spectacular attacking style developed by Las Leonas. With Luciana Aymar in the role of conductor, all players are talented virtuosi comfortable performing technical moves at high speed. With Rosario Luchetti, Carla Rebecchi, and of course Luciana Aymar, they have many players who can make the difference up-front and score, overwhelming an opposing defense.
When they force penalty-corners, they can count on the powerful flick of Noel Barrionuevo, reliably efficient as for example during the World Cup (with 6 goals).
The overall performance of Argentina depends very much on the individual form of Aymar and Barrionuevo. There are also concerns about their defense, who struggled during the Pan American Games, suffering 4 goals in the final against the USA (including 3 field goals), and will be further weakened by the absence of Belen Succi, their goalkeeper at the 2008 Olympic Games and 2010 World Cup, who will miss the trip to London due to pregnancy. On the other hand, the return of Mercedes Margalot, a veteran of 3 Olympic Games, could possibly bring back some much needed experience and stability in the defensive department.
Crystal Ball:
Argentina might not be as dominant as they were two years ago when they conquered the World Cup, but they have enough talent and experience to be a strong contender in London. In what could be her last participation at a world level event, Luciana Aymar will want to finish her long and illustrious career on a high note, and Las Leonas could very well be in the semi-finals in London, and possibly once again on the Olympic podium.